10 - 9 - 8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - The hour was almost upon us, the countdown had begun, there were only seconds left until the pub clock ticked over to strike midnight and the start of a new millennium had dawned.
Cries of “Happy new year” rang out everywhere, people were happy and excited, total strangers were hugging and kissing wishing each other health and good fortune, a chorus of Auld Lang Syne could be heard ringing out from the rafters, as the merry band of revellers present in the pub that evening looked set on celebrating well into the early hours.
Amongst all the merriment sat the lonely figure of Dave Holder, or “Noddy” to his mates, although it was fare to say that Dave didn’t have many of them.
Dave looked a little out of place sitting tucked away in the corner on his own, not attempting to join in with the other customers on this special new year’s eve.
You see Dave’s life had taken a dramatic turn for the worse some 17 years earlier when he was serving in the armed forces during the Falklands conflict.
Dave was serving with his best mate Terry Bishop when they were fired upon, a mortar shell exploded close to them killing Terry instantly and leaving Dave with massive injuries to his right hand side, the injuries to Dave were so bad that his right arm and right leg from the knee down had to be amputated taking away not only his career and his best mate, but his will to go on.
How is it possible to imagine the horrors of that day, or of the consequences that followed?
The months in hospital, the trauma, the feeling of not being complete, not being a whole man, Dave had to cope with all of these feelings of despair and uselessness, he was not only scared on the outside, he was also scared mentally on the inside too, Dave's life was in tatters.
Terry was Dave’s best friend, they had been through training together and were as close as any two men could possibly be, they were like brothers and for some foolish reason Dave blamed himself for his friends death, there was no one else to take the blame, so Dave took it upon himself to carry the burden of that fateful day.
Poor Dave was inconsolable, it was obvious that his mind was in a terrible place, counselling and therapy seemed to be the only options left for him, better that than going in sane he thought.
It is said that time is a great healer, yet here was Dave 17 years later in the first few moments of a new millennium, healed on the outside but still not able to control the demons that lurked inside his head.
The once happy fun loving man had disappeared into the shadows, his replacement an overweight unkempt 39 year old with prosthetic limbs who had a tendency to drink too much, as well as dabble in recreational drugs.
The pub revelers were still in party mood as a rather drunken Dave left the Wharf Inn returning home to his one bedroom flat some ten minutes walk away, the ground floor flat underneath him had just been rented out to a strange looking woman in her 60s, she reminded Dave of a throw back from the hippy days with her long flowing skirts and brightly coloured tops, she also had tattoos which Dave thought didn’t really sit well on a woman of her age, but she was quiet and kept herself to herself and that’s all that Dave was bothered about, anything for a quiet life.
Dave struggled to get his door key into the lock and dropped it on the floor, “Oh sod it” he said as he got down on all fours, groping for his key in the dark.
“Are you OK, do you need any help there?” Dave was a little startled by the voice calling out from the shadows, “Can I help you at all?” The voice said again in a gentle tone.
Dave screwed up his eyes and tried to focus on the dark shadowy figure behind him.
“Who’s that?” he said, “Its Martha your new neighbour from down stairs, you look like you could do with a hand, have you dropped your key?” Dave nodded, “let me have a look for you” she said, Martha bent down and picked up Dave’s key and handed it back to him.
Martha continued, “Have you been out celebrating the New Year then?”
Dave stayed down on one knee and replied, “Yes but I think I’ve overdone it slightly,”
Martha helped Dave up onto his feet, “I was just about to make some coffee would you like one? You look as if you could do with one,” Dave nodded and said cheers as Martha helped him into the kitchen of her flat and sat him down.
Dave now looked a little dishevelled and started tugging at the leg of his trousers, “Are you alright?” asked Martha, Dave’s prosthetic leg had moved out of place whilst he was on all fours looking for his key in the dark and he was trying to adjust it.
“Yes I’m fine it’s just this bloody leg.”
There seemed to be a moment of uneasiness in the room as Martha looked curiously at
Dave’s artificial leg not realizing that it was a false one at first, she was aware that he had a false arm but obviously Dave’s leg went undetected under his trousers.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking but were you born like that?” Martha felt awkward the instant the question had left her lips “Oh I’m sorry, forgive me for asking I shouldn’t have”
“No, that’s alright,” Dave paused, “It’s nice to meet somebody who doesn’t pretend not to notice,” Dave and Martha sat and talked for ages about anything and everything, they just chatted and laughed together, something Dave hadn’t done for a long time, perhaps a friend was all he needed, someone to share things with and someone to talk to.
It had been a long night, and Dave was pleased with the way it had ended, meeting Martha and being able to talk to her, she had been a breath of fresh air to him, she didn’t look at his encumbrance and feel sadness or pity, Dave really liked her for that, he eased himself out of the kitchen chair, “Well I think it’s time I was on my way, thanks very much for the coffees and the chin wag I’ve really enjoyed it” Martha told Dave he was welcome and opened the door for him, “Are you sure you’re going to be alright now” she said, Dave yawned, “Oh excuse me, yes I’ll be fine thank-you, perhaps I’ll see you tomorrow, oh it’s tomorrow now isn’t it?” He cried, Martha laughed at Dave’s remark, “Quite the wit aren’t you” she said.
Dave left and Martha closed the door behind him whispering good night one last time, she was pleased that she’d taken the time to help him and smiled to herself before turning off the lights and going to bed.
New Years day was now into its 10th hour as Dave opened his eyes he’d fallen asleep on the sofa and woken up with a stiff neck from the way he’d been laying.
It was very cold in the flat, Dave’s central heating timer was broken and he could only turn it on and off manually, he couldn’t afford to leave his heating on all night.
“Sod it” he said to himself as he pushed the button to on; “It still might be warm enough for a shower though,” he took a carton of milk out of the fridge and drank from it, it’s funny how drinking makes you thirsty he thought.
Dave pulled his dingy curtains to one side and looked out to see what the weather was doing,
It was cold but the sun was shining and over in the garden area he saw Martha pegging out some towels, he opened the window and shouted over to her, “Its bad luck to wash on New Years Day you know”.
Martha turned toward him and laughed then shouted back “You don’t believe in all that nonsense do you? She gestured with her hand for him to go round for a drink and Dave put up his thumb and nodded yes to her, he quickly undressed took off his prosthetic limbs and got into the shower braving its lukewarm water, Dave had put up a handle to steady himself as he showered, it was hard work washing yourself whilst standing on one leg.
The door to Martha’s flat had been left ajar, Martha was fingering through the pages of a book when Dave knocked and shouted hello, “Come in, I’m in the living room” was the reply, Dave closed the door behind him and walked through to the living room to see Martha on her knees looking at a large brown leather bound book, “What’s that you’re reading, anything interesting?” he said, the question was met with silence.
Martha seemed to study Dave’s face for a second or two, “Tea or coffee?” “I’ll have tea please” he said, Martha got up and asked Dave to take a seat then disappeared into the kitchen, Dave looked at the open book with curiosity, he noticed that it was written in a foreign tongue, one of which he had never seen before.
The living room door pushed open as Martha walked through with the tea, “So I see you’ve noticed my book?”
“Yes” said Dave looking rather puzzled, “What sort of language is that?”
“Please don’t be alarmed Dave, but this is a book of the occult” “Do you mean witchcraft?” he asked a little tentatively, “Yes I suppose you could call it that, these pages are full of unimaginable things, wondrous things that can change the path of life itself if the recipient can keep an open mind and want to believe.”
Dave suddenly felt a little uneasy until Martha started to reassure him that it was alright, she still spoke in the same gentle tone that she had used earlier.
“Earlier today when I first saw you I knew that you needed help, I could feel the hurt that was trapped inside of you trying to escape, I am sure that you are the one I am here to save.”
Dave raised his voice “I don’t remember you being like this last night, I’m sorry but I’m not into all this mumbo jumbo” Dave felt confused yet intrigued all at the same time, “What exactly is it you do then?”
Martha continued, “In the early hours when we first spoke, your mind was influenced by alcohol, your mind is the pathway to your soul and your conscience leads you down that pathway, your mind must be clear for you to choose which path you take.
I know in my heart that you are a good man, I only have today, the first day of the new Millennium to alter the path of someone who is worthy, I have chosen you and this path could be yours if you so wish.”
Dave sucked air through his teeth and nodded his head “Ok, so if I were to believe you, how could you change my life from the way it is now?”
“Earlier today whilst you were a little drunk and babbling, you told me you wished you could have your life over again, you said you would do anything to save your friend from what had happened on that fateful day during the war.
“What if I could take you back to that day and rid you of all your demons?”
Dave just gazed at her with a tear in his eye and whimpered “I would give anything in the whole wide world to be able to do that, anything” he said again.
Martha looked into Dave’s eyes, “Do you trust me Dave?” Dave wiped a tear from his cheek, “Yes I trust you he replied” in a very calm and calculated manner.
Martha told Dave to wait there for a moment and went outside to the washing line removing a small carpet from it with strange markings woven into its fabric.
She took the carpet back inside to where Dave was waiting and lay it on the floor in front of him, it had a large eye in its centre with compass points surrounding its edge.
Dave was told to kneel on the carpet facing northward, and to close his eyes and clasp his hands tightly in front of himself.
Martha placed her hand on Dave’s head and chanted in strange tongue, the language was alien to Dave’s ears but was comforting and made him feel sleepy, it was done in a matter of minutes then Martha picked up the leather bound book and recited script from it, as quickly as the book was opened it was closed shut again.
Martha helped a very drowsy Dave to his feet and said to him in a quiet voice, “You will remember nothing of this day, go home, eat and rest, and when you awaken tomorrow your new life will begin.”
Dave went back to his flat oblivious to what had gone on, he made himself a sandwich and drank a bottle of cold beer from the fridge then fell asleep on the sofa in front of the television.
This was the way Dave’s life was, he had no hope or vision for the future he was just a lonely soul groping in the dark, a man stagnating inside.
Suddenly Dave was woken from his sleep with a violent shake and a voice he recognized, “Come on Noddy, you lazy sod, it’s all kicking off out here.”
Dave sat up rubbing his eyes in disbelief he was in full combat gear and ready to go, there in front of him stood his best pal Terry Bishop.
God, it couldn’t have been just a dream could it he thought?, Dave quickly jumped to his feet a little disorientated and somewhat shocked , he looked straight down towards his legs to check they were both there and rubbed his right arm just to confirm it, “Thank God” he said.
Terry pulled at Dave’s sleeve and shouted at him again “Come on Dave” the two men started to run over rough ground toward the sound of gunfire and exploding shells.
Sometime later that same day, Captain Goodwin congratulated Sergeant Jackson on a job well done, “Any of our lads on the casualty list Sergeant?” He asked, “Just two Sir, mortar shell got them” came the reply.
The Major paused before asking, “Who were they?” Privates Dave Holder and Terry Bishop Sir, Bishop lost his right arm and his leg from the knee down, but unfortunately Private Holder didn’t make it, he never stood a chance poor bugger.”
In My Shoes